What is the connection between organisational culture and strategy?

4 Minutes
How culture influences strategic decisions and shapes an organisation's path to success.

Within the realm of modern business, two fundamental components, organisational culture and strategy, intertwine in a complex and symbiotic manner to exert a significant influence on the trajectory of an enterprise. Although initially appearing as distinct constructs, a closer examination reveals an intricate relationship, where each element exerts a profound impact on the other, ultimately determining the outcome of the organisation's endeavours.

This article embarks on a scientific exploration to unveil the intricate connection between organisational culture and strategy. In the course of this investigation, we will scrutinise how an organisation's culture plays a pivotal role in shaping its strategic decisions, while conversely, the chosen strategy can significantly influence and mould the organisation's culture.

The key question is why this interplay is important. The answer lies in recognising the pivotal roles that culture and strategy assume in an organisation's capacity to adapt, innovate, and prosper within the ever-evolving landscape of contemporary business. We aim to provide scientific insights into how alignment between culture and strategy can serve as a potent driving force behind an organisation's prosperity.

The Science of Organisational Culture

Organisational culture is complex, multifaceted and organic. It forms the bedrock of an organisation's identity, values, and behavioural norms. It is the collective embodiment of beliefs, practices, and ideologies that shape interactions and conduct within an organisation. To fully grasp its extensive influence on strategy and operations, it's essential to delve into the scientific underpinnings of organisational culture.

Defining Organisational Culture

Organisational culture is the amalgamation of shared values, beliefs, and behaviours that define an organisation. It fosters a common language and a sense of identity among members, promoting cohesion and unity. This culture transcends visible elements like mission statements or office d├ęcor, encompassing the deeper, often unspoken rules and implicit norms that guide daily interactions and decision-making processes.

Schein's seminal work in 1985, "Organizational Culture and Leadership," provides a foundational understanding of this concept, highlighting its depth and complexity.

The Formation of Organisational Culture

To understand the impact of culture on strategy, it's crucial to explore how it forms and evolves. Organisational culture develops through various mechanisms:

Socialization: New members absorb the culture through interactions with existing members, gradually adopting the organisation's values and norms.

Leadership Influence: Leaders significantly shape and reinforce culture through their behaviours and decisions, setting a precedent for others to follow.

Cultural Artifacts: Elements like symbols, stories, and rituals play a key role in perpetuating and reinforcing the culture.

Van Maanen and Schein's 1979 research, "Toward a theory of organizational socialization," delves into these processes, offering insights into how culture takes root and spreads within an organisation.

Cultural Dimensions

Researchers have identified various dimensions to categorise organisational cultures. Hofstede's cultural dimensions theory, for instance, outlines aspects like individualism-collectivism and power distance. These dimensions illuminate the diversity of cultures across different organisations and regions, and how these variations influence strategic decisions.

Hofstede's 2001 work, "Culture's Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions, and Organizations Across Nations," is a pivotal reference in this area, providing a comprehensive framework for understanding cultural differences.

Impact on Decision-Making

The influence of organisational culture on decision-making is well-documented in scientific literature. Culture affects aspects such as risk tolerance, openness to innovation, and problem-solving approaches. Cameron and Quinn's 2011 publication, "Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture: Based on the Competing Values Framework," offers valuable insights into how culture shapes and guides strategic choices within an organisation.

The Intersection of Organisational Culture and Strategy

After establishing the scientific foundation of organisational culture, we now turn to its intersection with strategy in the business realm. This juncture is critical, as it is where the profound impact of culture on an organisation's strategic choices, direction, and effectiveness becomes most apparent.

Culture's Influence on Strategic Planning

Organisational culture plays a pivotal role in shaping the strategic planning process. The values and beliefs ingrained within an organisation's culture can significantly influence its mission and vision. For example, a culture that emphasises innovation can drive a company to set ambitious objectives for developing ground breaking products or services. Barney's 1986 study in "The Academy of Management Review" delves into this, suggesting that organisational culture can be a source of sustained competitive advantage, particularly when it aligns with and supports strategic goals.

Strategy Execution

The success of strategy is deeply intertwined with organisational culture. A culture that values transparency, accountability, and open communication can smooth the path for effective strategy execution. On the other hand, a culture that is resistant to change or risk-averse may create obstacles in this process. Kaplan and Norton's 1996 work, "The Balanced Scorecard: Translating Strategy into Action," provides insights into how organisational culture can either facilitate or hinder the practical application of strategic plans.

Innovation and Adaptation

In the fast-paced business environment, the capacity for innovation and adaptation is key to long-term success. Cultures that encourage experimentation, creativity, and continuous learning are better positioned to adapt to market shifts and capitalise on emerging opportunities. Brown and Eisenhardt's 1997 study in "Administrative Science Quarterly" explores this dynamic, highlighting the importance of a culture conducive to continuous change and innovation.

Risk Management

Strategic decision-making often involves navigating and managing risks. Organisational cultures differ in their approach to risk, with some embracing calculated risks while others prefer more conservative strategies. Understanding the cultural context is crucial for informed decision-making in risk management. Fischhoff et al.'s 1978 study in "Policy Sciences" examines attitudes towards technological risks and benefits, shedding light on how cultural perceptions of risk can influence strategic decisions.

Employee Alignment with Strategy

Organisational culture is instrumental in aligning employees with the strategic objectives of the organisation. A culture that cultivates commitment, shared values, and a sense of purpose can motivate employees to actively engage in realising the strategic vision of the organisation. Pfeffer and Salancik's 2003 publication, "The External Control of Organizations: A Resource Dependence Perspective," discusses how organisational culture can align and mobilise employees towards common strategic goals.

Conclusion: The Symbiotic Dance of Organisational Culture and Strategy

In this exploration of the intricate relationship between organisational culture and strategy, we have traversed through the scientific underpinnings of how these two fundamental aspects of business intertwine and influence each other. The journey has revealed that organisational culture is not just a backdrop against which business strategies play out; rather, it is a dynamic and influential force that shapes and is shaped by strategic decisions.

In conclusion, the interplay between organisational culture and strategy is a dance of mutual influence and shared destiny. For an organisation to thrive, it must not only understand this interplay but also master the art of harmonising its culture with its strategic aspirations. By doing so, organisations can harness the full potential of their culture to drive strategic success, creating a resilient and dynamic enterprise poised for long-term prosperity and growth.


Q1: Can a strong culture compensate for a flawed strategy?

A1: While a strong culture can enhance strategy execution, it cannot fully compensate for a fundamentally flawed strategy. An organisation should ensure its strategy is sound while leveraging culture as a supportive force.

Q2: How can leaders effectively shift an entrenched culture to align with a new strategy?

A2: Leadership commitment, communication, role modelling, and well-designed change initiatives are key to shifting culture. Leaders must actively demonstrate the desired cultural behaviours and provide resources for cultural transformation.

Q3: Is it possible for an organisation's culture to hinder strategic innovation?

A3: Yes, an overly risk-averse or resistant culture can impede strategic innovation. Organisations must cultivate a culture that encourages experimentation, learning from failure, and embracing change to foster innovation.

Q4: What role does employee engagement play in the relationship between culture and strategy?

A4: Employee engagement is a crucial bridge between culture and strategy. Engaged employees are more likely to embrace and execute strategic initiatives aligned with the organisational culture.


Schein, E. H. (1985). Organizational Culture and Leadership. Jossey-Bass.

Van Maanen, J., & Schein, E. H. (1979). Toward a theory of organizational socialization. Research in Organizational Behavior, 1, 209-264.

Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture's Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions, and Organizations Across Nations. Sage Publications.

Cameron, K. S., & Quinn, R. E. (2011). Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture: Based on the Competing Values Framework. Jossey-Bass.

Barney, J. B. (1986). Organizational culture can be a source of sustained competitive advantage. Academy of Management Review, 11(3), 656-665.

Kaplan, R. S., & Norton, D. P. (1996). The Balanced Scorecard: Translating Strategy into Action. Harvard Business Review Press.

Brown, S. L., & Eisenhardt, K. M. (1997). The art of continuous change: Linking complexity theory and time-paced evolution in relentlessly shifting organizations. Administrative Science Quarterly, 42(1), 1-34.

Fischhoff, B., Slovic, P., & Lichtenstein, S. (1978). Fault trees: Sensitivity of estimated failure probabilities to problem representation. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 4(2), 330-344.

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